But as one of the winners of the 2020-21 National Heritage Academies Excellence Awards, she had little choice but to be front and center. Her colleagues at Advantage Charter Academy made sure not to downplay the occasion, celebrating the third-year eighth-grade math teacher with a festive atmosphere.
“My dean and my team put together a surprise, I was blown away,” she said. “I don’t really like to be the center of attention, but my family was there, they had kids from the band on drums, and they had my last name spelled out on T-shirts. They also had a video tribute. It was an amazing experience. The fact that so many people recognize the value that I bring to the organization and how passionate I am about helping the community that we serve, it feels amazing.”
When she began working at Advantage, Duncan-Robinson faced the challenge of changing scholars’ mindsets and their attitude about learning. She said many struggled with confidence in math, with more than 50% not proficient. Her determination and perseverance helped create a revamped learning community.
“We have created a safe environment for the kids to learn, grow, and feel comfortable with making mistakes, a system of accountability where students hold themselves and their peers accountable,” she said.
Duncan-Robinson also works to make a personal connection with each individual. No matter what the topic, she makes sure to establish a bridge of trust for each scholar.
“I make it a point to check with them individually,” she said. “Even though I communicate with them all in small groups, I designate time for individual conversations with students. Those conversations can be about math, they can be about problem solving, they could be about how their day is going or something that may have happened over the weekend or sharing our good news or some possible challenges that they may have encountered.”
With each school year comes a new, unique group of young minds, and Duncan-Robinson adjusts accordingly to fit students’ needs. It’s a challenge she welcomes and takes pride in achieving.
“I never limit myself to a particular style or even a particular strategy, it just changes every year,” she said. “I am constantly reflecting and refining what I do to reach students today. You must be open to change. You have to be open to adjusting to fit their learning needs. That's just something that I pride myself on. I may change the delivery. I may change the entire structure of the lesson. I may adjust the lesson to make it more engaging, connecting it to something that they’re interested in compared to my students the previous year. It's all about being highly reflective and open to feedback from my students, so I don’t stick to one particular strategy or style.”
A scholar having an “ah-ha” moment – a moment of sudden understanding – is especially gratifying to be part of, Duncan-Robinson said. One instance was when a high-risk, Tier 3 student who required individual instruction left Advantage for two years and later returned. Midway through the school year, he expressed his gratitude for Duncan-Robinson’s determination.
“He was like, ‘You know, Mrs. Robinson, I just want to let you know how much of an impact you've had on me. Because I used to struggle a lot. I didn’t really feel seen and now I know you've taught me to be able to advocate for myself and also to be confident with learning and making mistakes,’” she said.
“We have a lot of success stories, but the most gratifying comes from my students who have more challenges to overcome, seeing so many of them become lovers of math and just igniting a fire in them for learning. Being able to get them to realize their potential, that’s my greatest satisfaction. Through math they become better scholars and better humans.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Duncan-Robinson!
Advantage Charter Academy, a school in Baker, Louisiana, is a partner school in the National Heritage Academies network of over 90 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 60,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
Note: This is one in a series recognizing winners of the 2020-21 NHA Excellence Awards, a program that honors educators, deans, and administrative teams across our network.